Well I can say that I am a bit surprised by San Jose being there and Real Salt Lake not, but not too much. San Jose is a streaky team and New York was a bit overrated, it was only a matter of time for the Quakes to get someone other than Chris Wondolowski to score a couple goal, an only a matter of time until Bobby Convey stepped up and put them on his back to carry them towards the promised land.
I also think most experts would have told you the most competitive first round match-up was going to be RSL and FC Dallas, and sure enough it was as it simply came down to Kevin Hartman making some superhuman saves in the last 45 minutes and Eric Avila's late goal in Dallas. It was an upset but when you have the 2nd and 3rd best teams in MLS facing off in the first round it wasn't a huge upset.
So that means we have the MLS's most favored team, the Los Angeles Galaxy facing off against FC Dallas on Sunday, not really sure why LA is playing all their playoff games on Sunday when the majority of MLS matches all year were played on Saturday. Oh wait I remember it is about getting them on ESPN who won't show MLS on Saturday during college football season, but that is another topic. On Saturday the Eastern Conference Final will be on Fox Soccer Channel and feature two teams from the Western Conference, the San Jose Earthquakes will head to Denver to face the Colorado Rapids.
I find myself really wanting to cheer for San Jose (the 8th overall seed) to win it all, just like RSL did last year, but I have a problem with them. Can you please take the two stars over your crest off your kits and not pretend that you are the team that now plays in Houston? This owner, this organization isn't the one who won those, oh it was the team that used to play in San Jose but that team moved to Houston and I get that you fought for the rights to the name and the past history, but it seems a cheap attempt to claim something that isn't yours. Still better you than the Rapids (mortal enemies of RSL supporters).
My picks after the jump:
San Jose Earthquakes at Colorado Rapids
Wow this could be an exciting match as three of the top 10 goal scorers in MLS this year will be on the pitch, Chris Wondolowski is the Golden Boot winner with 18, Omar Cumming had 14 and Conor Casey had 13. So one would expect this to be a high scoring match-up, but I actually think it will be two teams playing not to lose. Both teams are making their first playoff appearance in several years and both can really use a run to MLS Cup to help boost their teams attendance. For San Jose they know they have a new stadium coming in a couple years and making it to Toronto should help them presell some season tickets for that new stadium. Colorado has a new stadium and while they are quick to point out the "most successful" football team in the state, they still can't draw fans. Their home average was under 13,500 this year and their first home playoff match didn't even fill half of their stadium.
I think the biggest match-up on the pitch will be how does Colorado's Pablo Mastroeni slow down and deal with San Jose's very hot Bobby Convey? We know both teams can score but I have a feeling this one will be 1-1 after 90 minutes, San Jose had failed to score in 11 of their 30 regular season matches but this is the playoffs and they will step up and get 1 goal like they did in 8 of their matches. Colorado scored a single goal in 13 of their regular season matches (their most common result) and allowed a single goal in 14 (also their most common result). Which means I expect the fun of extra time, and maybe even PK's. All of this could be made more fun by the appearance of a brightly colored ball as there is about a 50% chance of snow at game time.
FC Dallas at Los Angeles Galaxy
OK, I have to be honest with you all, I don't like LA. I have nothing against their fans, or even most of their players, but I do dislike the clear favoritism that has been shown to the team over the years by MLS. I understand they are a big market, I understand that without AEG's involvement for years there would be no MLS, I understand all of that, but when all of that leads to the rules being rewritten when LA's ownership asks just sits wrong with me, but this isn't the place or time for that discussion. LA was a dominant team for the first half of the MLS season, they struggled a bit towards the end but with huge wins over New York and FC Dallas in the final weeks of the regular season they found their form at the right time. LA then continued to dominate Seattle in the playoffs, like they had this year in the regular season.
FC Dallas was a rock solid team all year long, with just 4 regular season losses (tied for fewest in MLS history) but two of those came in the final weeks of the season, including a 2-1 loss at the Home Depot Center to the LA Galaxy on the final weekend of the regular season. They have a complete team with guys who can score and a fairly decent defense, their saving grace in the playoffs has clearly been the return of Kevin Hartman to the lineup. I am hoping that we see that attacking FC Dallas from the first leg of their series with RSL, because I think that style could pose a threat against LA. Dallas got a great early goal at Salt Lake off the counter attack but I don't think their defend and counter is a good as LA's ability to play that style.
LA has the talent to play any style they want but I am not a huge fan of their defend and counter attack, if a team forces them to out of that shell and shock style by getting an early goal it has really caused issues for the winners of the supporter's shield. LA has been great when Buddle gets chances on goal, getting him the ball early will really be a key, as late they have also become a very dangerous team on set pieces. Heck if you pay 5 million a year for a guy who that is his specialty then you better be. Will we get to see the high energy Landon Donovan, or will we see the guy who has looked fairly disinterested over the last couple months?
If LA wins, RSL will get another shot at the CCL next year and while many think that is a good thing I point out that in the last 3 years no MLS team that has made it to the group stage of that tournament has done well in the MLS playoffs. I believe that LA will win at home, but FC Dallas is the team I will be cheering for. I would love to see the two teams who have never won (or 2 of the 3 who really haven't won) the MLS Cup be there to fight for the title but I am going to have to pick based on the facts and stats that it will likely be LA vs Colorado in the final, but I would love to see it be FC Dallas vs San Jose.
OFF MY SOAPBOX